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Savor the Central Coast is back Sept. 24-27 

A shimmering abalone shell. The salty spray of Morro Bay waters lapping against a fishing kayak. The soulful eyes of a massive Clydesdale. The vineyards at Halter Ranch at the very height of harvest. String these moments together and you get the very essence of Sunset and Visit SLO County’s SAVOR the Central Coast.

There’s a reason why local folks make a point to attend each year (according to Visit SLO President Chuck Davison, attendance stands at 60 percent locals to 40 percent tourists).

click to enlarge DEVOUR:  Celebrity chefs, ranchers, growers, and local restaurants will come together to showcase the best food of the Central Coast. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • DEVOUR: Celebrity chefs, ranchers, growers, and local restaurants will come together to showcase the best food of the Central Coast.

The multifaceted event—which draws on Sunset magazine’s ongoing love affair with the Central Coast region—isn’t about waiting in lines or swigging as much wine as possible. It’s about hands-on culinary learning, immersive wine exploration, off-the-beaten-path beer, and a deep respect for local growers, ranchers, honey makers, and foodie artisans of all ilk. If this event could wear shoes, it would pick cowboy boots—or maybe even flip-flops.

The Main Event is slated for Sept. 26 and 27 at longstanding venue Santa Margarita Ranch, its exquisite terrain dotted with ancient, twisting oaks and spliced by a working train you can hop on if you get too full.

Surrounded by all things sizzling, juicy, and vibrant, attendees are encouraged to discover what’s growing wild and who’s cooking hot. With any luck, you’ll put some of the best things in your mouth all year (I know I did last year with Centrally Grown’s abalone ceviche).

The two-day sensory hangout promises to be packed to the gills with sights, smells, and experiences to be savored long after the last bite, including interactive opportunities to mingle with a gaggle of celebrity chefs (Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill Restaurants & Truck, Louis Maldonado of Spoonbar, and Yousef Ghalani of FIG among them). 

click to enlarge STRINGS AT SUNSET :  String Theory and DJ violinist SPAGS will kick off this year’s Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast with an interactive concert on Thursday, Sept. 24, at Vina Robles Amphitheatre. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • STRINGS AT SUNSET : String Theory and DJ violinist SPAGS will kick off this year’s Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast with an interactive concert on Thursday, Sept. 24, at Vina Robles Amphitheatre.

“In the past, celebrity chefs, and their ability to interact with the consumer, was limited to the Chef Central area,” said Visit SLO County President Davison. “We are introducing these chefs into opening night, and they will all offer food stations throughout the event. It’s much more interactive.”

Davison is particularly jazzed about another interactive element: the new Strings at Sunset Opening Night Party exploding at Vina Robles Ampitheatre this Sept 24. The “wine country casual” concert will feature String Theory and DJ violinist SPAGS. About 20 wines will be poured and Border Grill Food Truck will be ready to satiate the masses.

“String Theory is an amazing production entertainment team, so it is unlike anything people have ever seen,” Davison said. “The violinist will be out in the audience walking through the crowd.”

click to enlarge LEARNING IS DELICIOUS:  Roll up your sleeves and learn a new skill at a slew of culinary demonstrations unfolding at Sunset and Visit SLO’s SAVOR the Central Coast’s Main Event slated for Sept. 26 to 27 at Santa Margarita Ranch. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • LEARNING IS DELICIOUS: Roll up your sleeves and learn a new skill at a slew of culinary demonstrations unfolding at Sunset and Visit SLO’s SAVOR the Central Coast’s Main Event slated for Sept. 26 to 27 at Santa Margarita Ranch.

For the most rugged, geeky, and culinary obsessed (I count myself among this fine group), there is a world of Adventure Tours to experience. This Sept. 24 and 25, flavor-seekers will be whisked away to: a fishing kayak in the middle Morro Bay waters (spoiler: you get to eat what’s caught); Harris Stage Lines’ rustic stage coach in rural Paso Robles; La Cosecha in downtown Paso for a swanky Locally Grown Cocktail Crafting and Mixology class with FARMstead ED; a Clydesdale ranch in Cambria; and the fragrant gardens of the historic Paso Robles Inn, to name a few. Oh, Hearst Castle made the list, too.

At Bristols Cider House in Atascadero, you can expect a true tumble down the rabbit hole. This new Adventure Tour is all about getting acquainted with the hot upcoming beverage. Bristols Hard Cider Owner Jackie Meisinger gave me a little taste of what she’s offering.

“[Adventure Tour attendees] will see everything involved with getting that juice out of the apple and into the barrel,” Meisinger said. “From there, our cider maker will take groups to taste what we have in barrel right now.”

A single Bristols Hard Cider can reflect nine different apples, each sourced from See Canyon to Paso Robles. It’s a lot like wine or beer—some are dry hopped or bourbon-barrel aged, others are flat or sparkling. 

click to enlarge ADVENTURE TIME:  Check out a real working stage coach at Harris Stage Lines in Paso Robles (pictured), romp through Hearst Castle, or take a ride on a fishing kayak in Morro Bay during SAVOR’s annual lineup of Adventure Tours. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • ADVENTURE TIME: Check out a real working stage coach at Harris Stage Lines in Paso Robles (pictured), romp through Hearst Castle, or take a ride on a fishing kayak in Morro Bay during SAVOR’s annual lineup of Adventure Tours.

Taste a tart Granny Smith apple before sipping an accompanying hard cider actually made from those exact apples. Learn the difference between English vs. American ciders and swill all kinds of effervescent deliciousness from tiny mason jars. If all goes well during harvest, there’s a good chance you’ll also see apple crushing firsthand.

The cider company uses an old-school machine full of gears, cranks, and knobs, showcasing something a little different from the average winemaking tour (we’ve all seen a crusher/de-stemmer by now). The takeaway: Every one of the aforementioned adventure tours (and there are more online) reflect a universe unto themselves.

Sunset Food Editor Margo True has her Wranglers packed and is ready to hop on a stagecoach at dusty Harris Stage Lines in Paso Robles. It’s a new experience for the writer, but she’s always up for the unknown. 

When True’s not gushing over her love of all things Santa Maria-style barbecue, she’s racking up an impressive list of Central Coast must-eats. When visiting, she loves gabbing with local farmers (especially the ladies at Jack Creek Farms) and is always sure to pick up “the best canned tuna ever” at Tognazzini’s Dockside in Morro Bay.

- GET YOUR ADVENTURE ON!:  For a list of Adventure Tours and information on the Strings at Sunset opening night, visit savorcentralcoast.com. There, you can also purchase locals only discounted tickets through Aug. 31 and view a complete schedule of events. -
  • GET YOUR ADVENTURE ON!: For a list of Adventure Tours and information on the Strings at Sunset opening night, visit savorcentralcoast.com. There, you can also purchase locals only discounted tickets through Aug. 31 and view a complete schedule of events.

“To me, the Central Coast represents the way California used to be, before things got hectic and frantic and disconnected,” True told New Times over the phone. “It represents this centered, lovely place where people care about each other.”

Sunset Travel Editor Peter Fish also harbors a soft spot for the area, especially San Simeon, Cayucos, Cambria, and Morro Bay. If someone put a gun to his head and asked what his favorite state park was, he would say Montaña de Oro, “for its astounding beauty.” 

And although Fish is a huge proponent of the bountiful slice of earth that is the Central Coast, he understands that 10,000 tickets—the number purchased for SAVOR last year—isn’t insignificant.

“I worry local people will get mad at us for sending too many people to the Central Coast because we love it too much,” Fish said with a laugh.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT SLO

As someone whose family relocated from LA to Atascadero in the late ’90s, I can say that the secret’s been out for a long, long time. I say we all savor the experience of living here while it’s still that “centered, lovely” place of so many Sunset editors’ dreams. 

“The phenomenal richness of the wine scene between Paso and Edna Valley, the increasing sophistication of the restaurant scene, and just the richness of the outdoor experiences—the Central Coast is the best of California rolled into one place,” Fish said.

Hayley Thomas is amazed by the richness of the Central Coast region, too, at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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